The absence of a non-competitive atmosphere for photographers led Marshall Cetlin to create a local group where amateurs and professionals could exchange information and share their love of the visual medium.

The first meeting of the Fairfield Photographers' Network, held about eight months ago, drew almost 40 people. Membership has grown to about 100, and meetings, which had been held once a month, now take place twice as often.

"The main reason they like it is because it's an inspirational, uncompetitive place where people can come together," said Cetlin, who serves as the facilitator.

The network is open to anyone interested in photography, not just residents of Fairfield, and there are no membership dues. All photographers are welcome whether they make a living at it or simply create images for their own enjoyment, whether they have decades of experience or only recently picked up a camera, whether they have pricey, state-of-the-art equipment or inexpensive gear. "The common thread is that everyone is interested in making images," Cetlin said.

The group's mission statement is "to grow a non-competitive community willing to share all levels of image creation with individuals and organizations that have a passion for photography while inspiring each other and developing friendships." "I was an artist before I picked up my camera and I picked up a camera because I was asked to take care of my grandchildren," said Lisa Black, of Fairfield, at the most recent meeting of the network. Photographing her grandchildren has led to experimenting with various techniques and subject matter.

"I've fallen in love with trees," said Black, as she showed several of her photos to the group.

While many members of the Fairfield Photographers' Network have won awards, there are no "professional" jealousies. They come together to learn from each other. There are no harsh criticisms of work, only inspirational suggestions about different methods.

"Here, photos are talked about as if they are art work," Cetlin said. Photos don't have to be technically, photographically perfect to be art, he said.

Dave Quesnette, of Shelton, a hobbyist photographer for about 40 years, said the network provides a "non-judgmental atmosphere in which to learn and develop skills."

"I'm always open to learning something new," said Carmine Picarello, of Westport, a professional commercial photographer who also teaches chemical-based and digital photography at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport.

"This group is different from any other organization. The sharing of ideas captured my interest," said Susan Cart, of Fairfield, the president of the Greater Bridgeport Camera Club and secretary for the Connecticut Association of Photographers. Cart said she is glad to be part of the network and seeing it evolve. "It's fun to watch something grow from its inception to a larger organization," said Cart, an award-winning photographer who won Best in Show for a photo she exhibited at the Fairfield Art Council's 2nd annual FAC Members Exhibit.

More importantly, she said, it is fascinating to watch someone gain inspiration from another member. She recently heard one member say, `Your meeting inspired me to try something new. You just put a fire in my creative process.' "That's exciting," she said.

"I enjoy seeing the light bulb go on when people get it," Picarello said.

Howard Nathman, of Trumbull, said he belongs to several photography clubs that conduct business meetings and lectures, "but you don't walk out too much better a photographer than when you walked in. In this kind of an atmosphere they talk to one another. Somebody around that table may have experienced the same problem about computer printers or flash drives, and somebody might have an answer," he said.

By the time a meeting comes to an end, Nathman said he is wishing it could be extended for another 20 minutes or more.

Cetlin said the network will hold several member exhibits each year and the group is also working on other benefits of memberships.

The Fairfield Photographers' Network holds afternoon meetings on the first Thursday of the month at the Fairfield Arts Council, and evening meetings at the Fairfield Public Library. The next meeting is set for 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the arts council offices on Sanford Street.